Cunningham, the catcher, is in his eighth year with the Braves along with second baseman Mike Martin and pitcher Deron Crawford. Centerfielder Kevin Crawford, Deron's brother, is in his seventh year with the team.
P.J. Hiser and Nate Reeser return for Hagerstown after they made big contributions last year. During the Braves' 19-14 Maryland State Tournament championship game victory over Digital Wireless, Hiser hit three two-run homers and Reeser threw five scoreless innings of relief to get the win. Reeser was named Maryland State Tournament MVP.
One thing that impresses Cunningham is the depth on the team.
"We are two deep at every position," Cunningham said. "We can start two different lineups."
Some of the other key returnees include leftfielder-first baseman Pat Sweeney, shortstop-closer Mickey Kerns and starting pitchers J.R. Fitzwater and Jamus Peterman. Fitzwater was the ace of last year's pitching staff with an 11-1 record.
Rounding out the list of returning players are outfielder Matt Bragunier, first baseman Mike Kipe, pitcher Chad Secrest, second baseman-third baseman Zach Swisher, outfielder Dylan Hetzel, catcher Jon Showe and pitcher Rick Swauger.
Heading the list of newcomers is pitcher Marc Bluma, who played for the Hagerstown Suns last year. The other newcomers to the pitching staff are Derek Hoffman, Nathan Butts, Darron Jones and Eric Sheetz. Outfielder Les Martin, second baseman Danny Fowler and infielder Brian Hames round out the list of newcomers.
"If we can get the key players back from college early enough in the season, then we have a chance to get off to a good start," Cunningham said. "It is going to be hard to win 48 games again this year, because everyone will be gunning for us. But I still think that we are capable of winning that many games or maybe even more. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the new guys to catch on to the Braves way of winning baseball."
Hagerstown opens the season today when they will host the Chambersburg Rockies at 2 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College, the home of the Braves this year.
"I think that our pitching will be our strength and the fact that we play smart baseball by moving the runners up," Cunningham added. "We don't live and die by the home run. We could have as many as a dozen quality pitchers. We put a lot of pressure on the other team by being aggressive at the plate and by putting the ball in play. We can't wait to get to the ballpark each day to play."